The phrase “form is emptiness; emptiness is form” is perhaps the most celebrated paradox associated with Buddhist philosophy. It is the supreme mantra. The expression originates from the Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra, commonly known as the Heart Sutra, which contains the philosophical essence of about six hundred scrolls making up the Maha Prajna Paramita. The Heart Sutra is the shortest text in this collection. It belongs to the oldest Mahayana texts and presumably originated in India around the time of Jesus Christ.
According to Buddhist scholars, the dialogue between Avalokiteshvara and Sariputra is inspired by the Buddha. This is to say it occurs spontaneously without the speaker’s intention. The content of the conversation is determined entirely by the power of the Buddha’s concentration. The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara represents the idea of perfect universal wisdom, while Sariputra is regarded as one of the Buddha’s closest and brightest disciples. The dialogue takes place at the Vulture Peak near the ancient city of Rajgaya where the Buddha and his community of monks stayed. Sariputra requests Avalokiteshvara to instruct him on the practice of the perfection of wisdom, which means prajnaparamita in Sanskrit.
Scripture belong to all of us, they are our spiritual heritage and in particular the Heart Sutra of the Mahayana Buddhism is very popular for it’s brevity and depth of wisdom. The following is the Heart Sutra in full, as well a teaching by the Dalai Lama about the meaning of this most profound teaching. I am encouraging everybody to read it and to reflect on the perennial wisdom of the Heart Sutra. If we call it formless, emptiness or the absolute, consciousness or God – it always points to the same Truth.
The Heart Sutra.
Translation by Edward Conze
Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom, the Lovely, the Holy!
Avalokita, The Holy Lord and Bodhisattva, was moving in the deep course of the Wisdom which has gone beyond. He looked down from on high, He beheld but five heaps, and he saw that in their own-being they were empty.
Here, Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.
Here, Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness; they are not produced or stopped, not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.
Therefore, Sariputra, in emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and non-attainment.
Therefore, Sariputra, it is because of his non-attainment that a Bodhisattva, through having relied on the Perfection of Wisdom, dwells without thought-coverings. In the absence of thought-coverings he has not been made to tremble, he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to Nirvana.
All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect Enlightenment because they have relied on the Perfection of Wisdom.Therefore one should know the prajnaparamita as the great spell, the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell, the unequalled spell, allayer of all suffering, in truth – for what could go wrong? By the prajnaparamita has this spell been delivered. It runs like this:
Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all-hail!
The first two sessions of the first day of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s three day teaching on the “Heart Sutra” and “37 Practices of a Bodhisattva” given at the request of a group from Southeast Asia in Dharamsala, India, on September 8-10, 2010. (www.dalailama.com)